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A price cap is simply a process for establishing rates or prices that will be charged for a particular good or service. In some instances, there are governmental organizations that determine price regulation. One example is in the rates that may be charged for household utilities, such as water and electricity.
Often, there is a regional or state-level agency that is charged with the task of working with utility providers to determine a price cap for services rendered that is equitable to the consumer as well as to the supplier. Increases in rates have to meet with the approval of the state agency before the utility can implement any price changes that exceed the agreed upon limit.
In other settings, a price cap may be arrived by paying attention to the common economic indicators of supply and demand. As an example, an industry may choose to impose one for manufactured goods that will meet the demand but will not create a situation that will price anyone out of business. At the same time, a cap does allow for a degree of competitive pricing, so players in the industry retain the ability to distinguish themselves by both quality and price to the available consumer market.
There are a lot of advantages to implementing a price cap, above and beyond making sure the general public can afford basic services and goods. First, revenue-cap regulation establishes a fair balance between profit making and covering operation expenses. It can ensure that the provider makes enough profit to continue delivering services, but it does not allow the company to make an unreasonable amount of profit per consumer. This means that the provider has to look for ways to keep the operation efficient. A number of innovations on the production of goods and services have come about because suppliers had to find new ways to deliver more goods to a larger audience without increasing the price tag.
Second, the cap helps to set reasonable expectations as to what the general public should pay for services rendered. Generally, government agencies and public service commissions release details that are available to the average citizen about what it costs a utility to deliver its service. Understanding how much of the average dollar per usage actually goes into providing the service can help people understand why the current prices need to be revised, or why they should be allowed to stand. While no one likes to pay more for services, this form of regulation often makes it clear what the associated costs of that service are, which can make a price hike a little easier to deal with.
One of the key indicators used to arrive at or revise a price cap is the rate of inflation. Just as individuals are affected by inflation, so are service providers. Often, government agencies will agree with providers that an upward change in the cap is needed, so the vendors can continue to make enough profit to adequately provide services to consumers. While this may seem unfair to some consumers, people should remember that the alternative could easily be cutting back on service delivery in order to remain profitable. A realistic price helps to maintain a balance between what the consumer can afford to pay and what the providers needs to deliver the service and still realize a profit.